Saturday, September 29, 2012

With a Little Help from my Friends

Our Six-Pack Wednesday Group (although none of us actually drinks a six-pack)
I am really a loner, almost a hermit. I can be happily alone for huge stretches of time - just me and my books, my computer, and my fabric.  Fortunately, I fell in love with a guy that is really outgoing. Then I found a best friend who also likes her books, her computer, and her fabric, and is very outgoing and social. Without the two of them, and all of the friends I have met through them, my life would be very different.
We have this great little group that gets together every week for cocktails or cokes and friendship. The group changes - different people and different places - but it really stays pretty much the same. We spend time complaining about this or that, sometimes crying when problems crop up, but mostly we laugh and have a good time. Occasionally we get so noisy that we chase other customers out of a place, but we tip well so waiters never seem to mind.
Studies are finding that having a close group of good friends may be more important  to living a long, healthy life than whether or not you smoke, exercise or are overweight. On the opposite end of the scale, loneliness and isolation seem to be a serious risk to your health. Past studies told us that being married affects longevity, but it turns out that married men live longer, but the same may not hold true for married women. Often, close friends are more important to your health than your spouse or family.

So, if close friendships equal longer life expectancy, why?

Carole King and James Taylor had it right with You've Got a Friend.  When you are down and troubled... good friends are there to help you deal with depression or loss. The best friends offer support for your attempts to improve your health and happiness.
Good friends never let us forget that we have someone who cares, someone who is there to help whether our need is emotional support, financial help, companionship, or just advice. It may be someone to care for us after an accident or surgery, someone to listen as we pour out our heart.
Although the quality of our relationships is more important than quantity, a person with a large circle of friends from a variety of contexts is less likely to develop a serious illness.

Some Studies...

  • Researchers at Harvard have shown that strong social ties promote brain health.
  • A Swedish study found that expanding your social circle lowers your risk of heart disease.
  • A 2006 study showed that women with breast cancer had a 25% less chance of dying if they have a tight group of close friends.
Close friends lead to a stronger immune system, while people with poor social connections have a 50% chance of dying sooner.

Friendship can take some effort

The thing is, friendship takes some work. It is too easy to get caught up in our own little world and suddenly realize that we have drifted away from our friends. A new romantic relationship can take over your life until you don't have time for your friends any more. A stressful job can do the same thing. But it's important that we refuse to allow this to happen.
  • Be sure you make time to spend with your friends.
  • Keep in touch with old friends. It's much harder to develop new friendships than it is to maintain the old ones.
  • Facebook is not good enough!
*** However, I have to say that thanks to Facebook, I am now back in touch with friends from high school that I hadn't seen or heard from in 40 years. They may not be life-saving-close friends, but it's fun to hear from them again.

That's what friends are for

As time goes by, I expect that my friends and I will be challenged in many ways. Some of us are more secure in our realtionships than others. Some are dealing with serious health issues. Who knows what surprises the economy might bring? Some of us will move away, but I imagine others will join our group.
But no matter what happens, I know in my heart that we will still be a group of friends who loves each other and care enough to say whatever needs to be said. We will be there to offer whatever kind of help is needed... because that's what friends are for.

And thank you, friend, for reading my blog!
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Monday, September 24, 2012

Travel Tales: The Gypsy Caves of Sacromonte, Granada

I had heard something about there being some gypsy caves somewhere north of Granada, but I thought they were outside of town and difficult to get to. Besides, I was in Spain to see Moorish architecture, not some gypsy caves that were probably some rip-off tourist attraction. I had come to see the Alhambra, the wonder of Islamic architecture and art!

And, indeed, the Alhambra was wonderful, but that is a story for another day. I only bring it up because it was from the Alhambra, looking out across the Darro River, that I realized that I could see the Sacromonte right there, and it was true - there were caves! I could see the dark openings that were the doorways into the cave dwellings. I knew right then what I would be doing the following day.
Because I was traveling with an ancient travel guide with about 1 1/2 pages on Granada, I didn't really know much of anything about what I was going to see. The lady at the desk in my hostel told me to turn right, walk through the Albaicin, the old Arabic quarter, and then just keep following the road up the hill.
As I walked up the road that started as Carrera del Darro (the name changed a few times along the way) with the Darro River on my right and a hillside covered with homes on my left, I began to notice that the houses backed right up to the hillside. The houses all seemed to be only one room deep, but I later learned that these houses were actually the entrances and front rooms of caves.

I imagined that they started out as small houses that later expanded right into the hillside when the owners had more money and needed more room. But I suppose it could have happened the other way around. Maybe they started out as cave dwellings and then the owners accumulated enough money to build a "respectable" entrance.
On this lower level, many of the cave/homes have been turned into bars and restaurants where tourists are entertained by "Gypsies" dancing a Flamenco variation called Zamba.
By the way, the word "gypsy" and the Spanish "gitano" both come from the idea that these people came from Egypt. It turns out that they originated in India and spread out into areas settled by Muslims. From the 13th to the 15th centuries, Granada was the capital of the area of Spain controlled by the Moors. The proper name for them is "Roma" and the Sacromonte district is the home of their community.

The Camino del Sacromonte (same road) eventually turned into a long, steep, hot path that led up the hillside to the Center for the Interpretation of Sacromonte, an outdoor museum that explains living in the caves.
There are quite a few of the caves that have been fixed up to represent what life in a cave would be like. Although the caves did eventually have plumbing and electricity, I suspect that what I saw was pretty idealized, at least for the old days.
The caves were built into both sides of a ravine, so the base of the ravine became like a road between the houses. The soil is sedimentary deposits of clay and small pebbles, so it was fairly easy to dig out, yet also quite strong. I imagine that the caves became river-front property during a rain storm. Actually, heavy rain in 1962 is what eventually drove many of the people out because parts of their homes collapsed and washed down the hillside.
The insides of the caves are much brighter than I expected because they are all painted white to reflect any ambient light. Now that they have plumbing and electricity, I think they'd be pretty cosy. And since they are caves, the temperature would stay pretty much the same year around. 
My claustrophobia kept me from spending much time deep inside the cave-homes, but I was able to stand it enough to duck in for photos as long as I could get back outside quickly. Obviously, I am not meant to be a cave-dweller. Being a museum, the center also gives demonstrations of Roma crafts, food, and traditional music. I was too early for that, but I had the place to myself - a fair trade-off.

It turns out the story as I've told it so far may be a bit of a fairy tale concocted for tourists. Who doesn't love stories about Gypsies? But some say that the Roma didn't actually arrive until much later, and when they did, they moved into homes that had been abandoned by earlier owners.
The Moors actually ruled much of Spain for almost 800 years.The Moorish area was called al-Andalus, today's Andalucia. Of course, the former rulers of the area weren't impressed, but the Moors were pretty nice to the people they had conquered. They brought southern Spain out of the dark ages, supporting arts and sciences and developing new agricultural techniques. They built schools and mosques, palaces and public gardens.
They allowed Christians and Jews to live where they wanted and worship as they pleased.
Then Isabel and Fernando got married, reuniting the rest of Spain and driving out the last of the Moorish leaders. They also revived the dreaded Inquisition, which began torturing and executing Jews and other non-Christians.
The Jews and the remaining Muslim people fled for their lives, abandoning their homes and hiding out in caves they carved into the sides of the mountain.
This side of the story says that the Roma didn't arrive until the 18th century. By then, the Inquisition was long past and the Jews and Muslims had again been admitted, marginally, into society.

This final photo is a more realistic shot of one of the house/caves that doesn't belong to a restaurant or the museum. I don't think this one would be so nice to live in.
Thank you for reading my blog.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

What in the world is a Transient Ischemic Attack???

A Transient Ischemic Attack, also known as TIA, is a mini-stroke, and we are approaching the age when one might just sneak up on us. Knowing what to watch for and what to do just might save your life or that of someone else.

Most of the time, they don't cause serious damage, but recent Canadian research has shown that within ninety days after a TIA, 12% of patients found their disability worsening, even if they didn't have another mini-stroke.

Often, the first occurrence of symptoms is the only warning sign. DO NOT IGNORE IT!!! Call 911 immediately!

What Causes TIAs?

A TIA occurs when blood flow to a part of the brain stops briefly. It is a warning of more serious problems to come. The flow of blood is cut off because:
  • There is a clot in an artery in the brain
  • A clot has traveled to the brain from somewhere else
  • An injury to blood vessels
  • Narrowing of a vessel in or near the brain

Risk Factors

High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for TIAs and strokes. The others are:
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of stroke
  • High cholesterol
  • Age over 55
  • Race - African-Americans are more likely to die from strokes
Here's a weird one for you: men whose parents divorced while they were children have a three-fold risk of stroke.

Symptoms of a mini-stroke

The list of possible symptoms, which can last 1-2 hours or up to 24 hours, is long:
  • Vertigo or dizziness
  • Unusual sleepiness or unconsciousness
  • Changes in feeling: touch, pain, temperature, pressure, hearing, or taste
  • Confusion or memory loss
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty writing or reading
  • Drooping of face
  • Inability to recognize objects or people
  • Lack of bladder or bowel control
  • Lack of coordination and balance, clumsiness, trouble walking
  • Loss of vision in one or both eyes
  • Numbness or tingling on one side of the body
  • Personality, mood, or emotional changes
  • Trouble saying or understanding words
  • Weakness on one side of the body
Symptoms almost always disappear before you get to the hospital. GO ANYWAY!

At the Hospital

They are going to run some tests - maybe lots of tests:
  • Head CT Scan or Brain MRI - strokes show changes, TIAs don't
  • Angiogram - to find out which vessel is blocked or bleeding
  • Echocardiogram, if the doctor thinks the clot came from your heart
  • Carotid Duplex (ultrasound) - can show if the carotid artery in neck has narrowed
  • EKG - to check for irregular heartbeat
Maybe some other tests will be ordered to check for other causes or risks of stroke, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, or high cholesterol.


After a TIA, the goal is to prevent a stroke. You will probably have to take a blood thinner. If the neck artery is blocked, they will treat that. And, if they find you have an irregular heartbeat, that will be dealt with to prevent future problems.


TIAs don't cause lasting damage to the brain, but it is a warning sign that you will probably have a real stroke soon. More than 10% of the people who have a TIA will have a stroke within three months. And in one-half of them, it will happen within 48 hours. Do not wait! Do not ignore the symptoms just because they go away. CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY!

Thank you to Dr. Khaalisha Ajala and ABC News for publishing the story that brought this to my attention. Almost all of my facts and figures come from the National Institute for Health's website:



Monday, September 17, 2012

Simplify: Your Home

How Clutter Happens

A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.
                                                                                                                - George Carlin     

Unfortunately, that seems to be true more and more these days.  People just keep buying stuff until it fills up every corner of the house. Then they start moving it out into the garage until they've filled the garage so full that they can't fit the car inside. Then they rent a storage space where they put all the stuff they hardly ever, or even never, use but can't stand to get rid of because they might want to use it sometime in the future.

This turns into an endless cycle. They might eventually break down and have a yard sale and get rid of some of the stuff so they finally have some breathing space. But then more toys or clothes or appliances come on the market and they are just so cool that they have to have them, and the cycle has started all over again.

Taking Control of Your Home

Don't have anything in your house that is not useful or beautiful.
                                                                                                                 - William Morris

Your home should be your sanctuary, your haven from the hectic world outside. It should be a place that your soul can come home to rest.

Who is in a hurry to go home to a disorganized house with clutter and messes demanding your attention? Clean me! Put me away! Take care of me! How can you relax if you have to move a pile of clutter off the table before you can eat or off the couch before you can sit? 

This would feel to me like a house full of negative energy. I could never really relax in my home if everywhere I looked I saw stacks of things that needed my attention. 

What can you do if your house is out of control? You've got to bite the bullet and get rid of some of that stuff! Give it to your kids - or their kids. Give it to charity. Have a big yard sale. Throw it away. It doesn't really matter; just get it out of your way!

Vastu and You

 Before the Chinese came up with Feng Shui, the Indians had Vastu - the ancient Hindu science of creating living spaces that nurture the soul. The idea is to restore balance and well-being to your life by harmonizing your environment to create a healthy home.  An uncomfortable home feels negative and depressing, but a healthy, soothing home brings harmony to your life.

According to a recent article in Yoga Journal, "when the design of a space honors the needs and preferences of the people who live there...harmony prevails." The goal of Vastu is to:
  • Respect our interconnection with nature and welcome it into our home, where it can give us an emotional, spiritual, and physical lift.
  • Honor who we are and what we love so that we create supportive environments to relax and feel at home.
  • Align our biorhythms with that of the universe - the rotation of the moon around the earth and the earth around the sun - by observing the movement of sunshine and shadows.

 A Reflection of Your Personality

No matter what your style - sleek and modern, antiques, or even something ethnic - your home should reflect your own personality. Otherwise, you won't be comfortable or want to spend time there.

You need to consider how you want to use your home. Think about a place to sleep, a place to prepare food and eat it, a place to bath, and place to gather together with your family and friends, a place for hobbies or work.

Here's a tiny peek into my home.
I live in Mexico and chose to decorate my house in a simple but traditional Mexican style. The main thing that made me fall in love with this house is the fact that every room has wonderful arched doors and windows that bring the outdoors inside. No matter where I am in the house, I can see outside: the garden, the sunshine, the rain, the wind.  Because I'm lucky enough to live in this wonderful climate, my doors and windows are all open almost every day. There is very little separation between the inside and outside. I see the rising sun through my glass front door and watch the setting sun cast slanted shadows in my backyard.

I love my kitchen. It was a big empty room so I got to design it from scratch - the arch, the shelves, the tiles, the cabinets - everything in traditional Mexican style. 

I feel so comfortable working in this kitchen; it inspires me to cook lots of healthy, delicious meals. 

My mother bought the cobalt blue glasses in Mexico many years ago and took them to her home in Oregon. I brought them back down here with me and then designed my kitchen around them. Now I have a bit of my mother in my kitchen.

I invite my garden into my bedroom, too, and I can sleep with that big window open almost year around.

My bedroom has subtle reminders of the time I lived in Japan, but it still feels like Mexico, too. I made the duvet cover and the shams and quilted the coordinating wall hanging hanging above the bed. 

Like the designs painted above the doors and windows, it is all representative of my personality.

Your home can  be a place to display your collections. Although I am not a Christian, I enjoy collecting crosses. I look for them wherever I travel. Most of these are from all over Mexico, but I also have crosses from Spain, Italy, Ecuador, and Guatemala.

I guess this is the spiritual corner of my house. Below the crosses is my yoga mat and the big pillow I quilted to sit on while I meditate. I also have a framed photo of the giant Buddha in Kamakura, Japan, but you can't see it here.

The important thing is to make your home a reflection of YOU. When you've done it right, you will have a place for everything and will want to keep everything in its place. It will be easy to keep it clean because you won't have a bunch of clutter to clean around. You will enjoy being a home and, like me, you may not want to leave. 

Thank you so much for reading my blog.
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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Do You Understand Your Retirement Benefits?

I wrote last month about how I was planning to postpone accepting Social Security retirement benefits until I was 66 or 70 so I would be able to collect more each month. It turns out that there is a lot about Social Security that I didn't understand, and I'm realizing than many others, especially women, don't understand it either.

For my international readers, you may not be eligible for Social Security from the US, but you may have a different system in your own country or a pension from your work. Please make sure you understand what you have coming so there won't be any nasty surprises later.

If you are the main bread-winner of the family, it's probably pretty plain and simple. You've paid into the system all your working life, and when you retire, you will collect according to your earnings over the years and your age when you decide to retire. Most of what I will write about here is going to mean more to women who may not have had a career of their own, but it also goes for the guys whose wives earned more than they did.

When to Retire???

You can begin collecting Social Security benefits at 62 but you will get a lesser monthly amount than if you wait until your full retirement age. But did you know that if you agree to accept the lower monthly payments because you want to retire early, you can later pay it all back so that you can re-retire at an older age and collect more monthly income? Of course, that wouldn't make a lot of sense unless you unexpectedly came into some money that allowed it to happen.

Most people seem to collect as soon as they can. No one knows how long they will live, so they might as well start early and collect it as long as possible. But that is not always the best way to go about it. If you wait until your reach 70, you won't get to collect as many payments, but each that you do collect will be larger. It turns out that if you die early, you will be ahead by starting early. But, if you live to about 77 or 78, you will be ahead if you waited to collect the higher amount. And you will continue to collect the higher payment for as long as you live.

Life Expectancy

The Social Security people have this all figured out. Once we have reached the ripe old age of 65, a man has a life expectancy of 83 and a woman has a good chance of making it to 85. Those ages might be the averages, but one of every four 65-year-olds will live past 90, and one in every ten will make it past 95. 

Combining Work and Social Security

I always thought that if you work while collecting Social Security, they will deduct $1 for every $2 that you earn. That's true as far as it goes, but there's more to it. That 1-for-2 deduction only happens if you earn more than the annual limit, which is $14,640 in 2012. But once you reach full retirement age (depending on when you were born)--for me it's 66--there is no longer a limit on what you can earn, so there will be no deduction of benefits for working.

Divorced Spouses

I spent most of my life as one of those unpaid workers whose job it is to stay at home and take care of the cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, child care, husband, etc., like many women in my age bracket. I didn't work outside the home enough to be eligible to collect Social Security in my own name. Because my husband and I were married for more than ten years and I never remarried, I will collect based on his earnings. The catch is that I only get a percentage of what he gets. If I start collecting at 62, I get only 35% of his monthly benefit; at 66, I will receive 50% of what he gets. The tricky part here for retirement planning is finding out how much the spouse you're divorced from will earn so you can figure out how much you will earn. Important note: the fact that I get this money does not affect either his own benefit or the benefits his current wife will get.

Surviving Spouses

Once one of the couple dies, the survivor may be entitled to benefits based on what the deceased partner earned. Fortunately for them, the percentage is higher--possibly 75 to 100% of what the worker received. But this is one of those instances where the widow or widower has to be alert.

My friend's mother did work outside the home enough to earn a retirement benefit of her own. It wasn't as much as her husband earned, but the combined benefits let them live quite comfortably. When her husband died, my friend's mom thought she would be able to continue collecting her benefit and receive a surviving spouse benefit. It turns out that it doesn't work that way. Once her husband had died, they paid her the higher of the two benefits, which meant that she now receives her surviving spouse benefit but no longer receives a benefit based on her own earnings. She still has enough, but she was looking forward to a little fun money.

Divorced Surviving Spouse

This is the one that really surprised me. Once my ex-husband dies, I will also receive the same surviving spouse benefit as his current wife, who will then be his widow. So as long as I hang on longer than he does, I will get a big raise when he goes. And, I could start collecting at age 60 in this case. So, if I retire at 66 and he is still alive, I will receive 50% of what he receives. But if he has died by then, I will receive 75%. (The lady who answered the phone at the Social Security office suggested that I not get any ideas about helping this along.) And if I begin collecting at the 50% Divorced Spouse rate, that will change to the 75% Surviving Divorced Spouse rate upon his death.

A Note for Expats or Anyone Considering Retiring Abroad

Expats can collect Social Security while living in a foreign country. There are a couple of extra hoops we have to jump through, but it's not bad. With direct deposit, they put the money in your account in the states and you take it out via ATMs wherever you may be. However, as of right now, although we are eligible for Medicare, we cannot use it outside the US. We are all hoping that will change before too long.

Be Sure You Know What's Yours

I hope this helps to explain Social Security for you. Please, please, please, though, do not rely on what I have said. Call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 to ask for an estimate of your benefits so you won't be unpleasantly surprised. Be prepared to settle down with a cup of coffee and something to read while you are waiting for them to get to your call. They say they are busier in the morning, so try to call later. They are open from 7am until 7pm - I assume that is eastern time.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Travel Tales: Livingston, Guatemala

Livingston, Guatemala, seems to me like a little piece of Jamaica transported to eastern Guatemala. I has an ambiance that is quite different from the rest of the country. And, because there are no roads to Livingston, I imagine it will retain its unique personality long into the future.

Rio Dulce

The best way to arrive in Livingston is via a boat trip along the Rio Dulce from the town also named Rio Dulce. Actually, it's not much of a town - it's more like a small village tucked under both ends of a very long bridge that crosses the river.
El Castillo de San Felipe
Inland from the village there is a lake that the real pirates of the Caribbean used as a hideaway from storms and the authorities. Those same authorities built El Castillo de San Felipe in 1652 to keep the pirates from looting the area.
It did slow them down, at least until 1686 when the pirates captured and burned the fort. (I've always wondered exactly how one goes about burning down a fort composed of rock.)

Dugout canoe surrounded by lily pads
It seems like half of the people of Rio Dulce are employed selling tickets for the boat rides down the river to Livingston. We didn't see much to entertain us in Rio Dulce town, but there are lots of sailboats anchored nearby. Some friends stayed at a resort on the river and loved it. We stayed one night and enjoyed watching the river traffic for a couple of hours, but that was probably more than enough.
The $10 boat ride from Rio Dulce to Livingston turns into a tour of the area. The river runs through the beautiful Pacque Nacional Rio Dulce and the views are fantastic the entire way.

The local Mayan people get around with dugout canoes. There are no roads in this area - nor electricity. The river is their road.
Mail is delivered via the tour boats to the locals living in homes built along the river.
The jungle comes right down to the banks of the river. We saw a couple of places where they had just begun construction of new homes. The cleared trees became wood for the building while the bushes and leaves seemed to be turned in to the mud under the house - a foundation of sorts.

As I sat in the tour boat and watched the jungle going by on both sides of the river, it was easy to understand why this area is so sparsely populated. I can't imagine trying to travel over land and through that jungle, even with a big machete.


As we neared the eastern coast, the land leveled out and there were a lot more buildings. We were arriving in Livingston. The mouth of the river is quite wide and the many fishing boats makes it obvious how the town is supported.


Our boat driver/tour guide dropped us off at the dock in front of our hotel. What a treat! Everyone else had to haul their luggage along the streets to their hotels.
Hotel Casa Rosada was great. We had our own little bungalow with a shared bath, but no one else was there to share it with!
They have a great little patio with beds in the middle. This was something that I had been wanting to do at my house, but I'd never seen it done and wasn't sure about digging up the tiles. Now I knew just how to do it!
We dropped our luggage off at our bungalow and took off to explore the town.
Livingston has a population of about 6,000 but quite a few of them must live outside of the main part of town, because it just didn't seem that large. Nothing else is nearby, so anyone living within five miles or so is probably included in that count.
Livingston is populated mostly by Black Caribs. They are descendants of a shipload of slaves from Nigeria who were shipwrecked near the Caribbean island of St. Vincent.
When the British colonized that island, they shipped all the Garifuna, as they were called, off to another island off of Honduras. From there, they spread along the eastern shore of what is now Central America.
I knew that history, but I didn't quite expect Livingston to feel like it had been transported from Jamaica, Bob Marley music and all.
As soon as we neared that downtown area, we were approached by a Garifuna guy who introduced himself as Polo. The Lonely Planet had warned of hustlers, so we figured he was the first. But we visited for a few minutes and then went on our way - no sign of any kind of hustling.
Downtown Livingston has only one road. It starts at the dock on the south side of town, goes up and over the hill for three or four blocks and down the other side to end at a 12" drop-off on the beach at the north end of town. We never could figure out why it just ended that way, but we called it the road to nowhere.
Many of the people speak Spanish and Garifuna and Belize English, so it was hard to remember that we were in Guatemala. I don't think there were many "Guatemalans" in town until the civil war problems in the rest of the country twenty or so years ago drove some of them to seek shelter here from the violence.
We didn't see much of the usual Guatemalan handcrafts, but this painted furniture was all over town, so it must be the local craft.  

Over the next few days, we ran into our friend Polo many times.  He had lots of interesting stories to tell.
It seems that Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead used to have house on the beach on the north side of Livingston. When Polo was only seven years old, Jerry took him in off the streets, gave him his first guitar and taught him how to play.
Many years later, according to Polo, Jerry took him north to Illinois and paid his way through college.
Before writing this, I tried to confirm that Jerry Garcia had lived in Livingston. I found lots of references of this on the internet. It turned out that every single one of them had heard the story from our friend Polo. So, who knows? He's been spreading the same tale for many years.

By the way, here's a photo of my patio at home that was inspired by the one at Casa Rosada. It has really grown up and filled in a lot since I planted it, and I love it more every day!
Thanks for reading!
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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Simplify: Your Wardrobe, Part 2

 How Much Do You Pay for Your Clothes?

For the past few years the US and most of the world has been struggling through some difficult economic times. People are losing their homes, losing their jobs, and losing their retirement savings. Yet I am constantly amazed at the prices of clothing that I see in magazines. I don't mean the fashion magazines that have always had outrageous prices. I'm talking about the magazines that are published for "everywoman". I see fashion articles that feature office-work-type outfits that sometimes cost $500-1000. Who has that kind of money? Anyone who does is probably working too hard to have time to read the magazines. For myself, I have a better idea...

Recycled Clothing

Way back in the 1960s, I started haunting the Salvation Army and other thrift stores looking for the long "hippy" skirts and shawls that could only be found in thrift stores. My daughter got me back into that kind of shopping in the early 1990s, when she was the same age I was in the 60s. She was looking for grunge, but same idea.

When I moved to Washington in 2000, I was surprised to realize that lots of people were shopping the thrift stores. Goodwill had lots of good stuff. St. Vincent de Paul wasn't as good but it was cheaper. Those in the know went every week so they wouldn't miss the new stuff, including nice "professional" clothing when they put it out. Later, I learned that Portland is a great town for Goodwill stores; they are all over the place. By then, I was buying almost all of my clothes second-hand, unless I found a really good sale on new clothes.

Thrift Shopping, Mexican Style

When I moved to Mexico I discovered that the local people go to the states and buy stuff from Goodwill and Savers stores on discount days and bring it down to sell at the street markets here. I started getting lots of my clothes that way, although it always bothered me that the best items have usually been picked out, and they often charge more than the prices on tags that are still attached.

However, the people who shop at these street markets often do not know the good US brand names. And I can sometimes find great deals on brand new clothes. I think that people with more money than good sense buy them without trying them on. Then, when they don't fit, it's easier to donate them than to take them back to the store. It seems silly to me to not take advantage of this opportunity. Even if the clothes are used, I have a washing machine.

The Thrill of the Hunt

Even though I rarely buy clothing down here anymore, I still check out the merchandise at the street markets and thrift stores every once in a while, especially in the smaller villages. It is not unusual to run into amazing bargains. I once bought a Tommy Bahama silk blouse for $5, and I found a brand new sexy Ralph Loren blouse of beaded silk, still with it's $250 price tag, and I got it for about $5. Now it's the thrill of the hunt that draws me. I am always on the lookout for the amazing bargain that no one else has noticed.
Mostly, though, I'm better off going directly to the thrift stores on my annual trips north of the border. I usually take an extra suitcase, or buy a cheap one at a thrift store, to load up with my wardrobe for the coming year.
During my trip to Florida in May, I visited a tiny thrift store in a small town. I bought a blouse and two pairs of shoes. Neither pair of shoes had never been worn. The price, including tax, came to $5.30. I looked up the shoes online. One pair sells for $65. They are very comfortable flats - great for traveling. I found Terry three pairs of men's dress shorts that came to about $10.

What Will You Do with the Money You Save?

Shopping this way for the past 10 or 15 years has saved me a lot of money. It is one of the reasons why I was able to retire early. And these savings go a long way toward paying for my annual international vacations.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Simplify: Your Wardrobe, Part 1

Going to Extremes

The website of California Closets opens with a photo of a closet that is roughly the size of my living room. I have no idea how much it would cost to have a closet like that installed, but I would imagine that the cost to fill it with clothes would be more than I live on in a year. I don't get it. Why would anyone need that many clothes?

I was thinking about what to write in this post when I ran across an article about Mildred Lisette Norman, also known as Peace Pilgrim. During the 1940s, Mildred decided that making money and spending it foolishly was a waste, so she began to simplify the clutter in her life and didn't stop until she was down to only two dresses and living on $10 a week.

In my opinion, she just might have taken things a little too far, but life in the 1940s was a lot different. No one had much of anything, but they got through it.

This topic has a two parts. The first part is about cutting down on the amount of clothing packed into your drawers and closet. My next post will be about spending less on clothes so you can save more money for retirement.

How Many Clothes Do You Need?

This is a photo of my closet, nice and organized, just like California Closets, but in a tiny fraction of the space. Actually, I have another like this with a few dresses and jackets, but these are the clothes that I wear regularly.

And this is plenty. This is enough to wear a different outfit every day for two weeks with plenty of variety - long pants, capris, skirts, casual and dressy blouses. And my flip-flop collection. (I'd hate to live in a place where I couldn't wear flip-flops most days.)

I makes a difference that I'm retired, but these clothes would work fine for many jobs in the places where I lived before retirement.

It wasn't easy to cut my wardrobe down to this level. I had lots more clothes that I almost never wore, but I just couldn't seem to convince myself to get rid of them. Plus, I kept finding more clothes that were such a bargain that I couldn't pass them up.

I had a box of clothes that were too large - just in case I put on weight - and another box of clothes that were too small, in case I lost a few pounds, of course. I finally realized that since I've stayed pretty close to the same weight for the  past six years, it really isn't likely to change a whole lot.

Eliminating the Excess

OK, so this part wasn't easy, but I've haven't experienced a moment of regret since I finally got it done. I started early one morning and removed everything from the closets and drawers and boxes and piled it all on the bed. Believe me, it was a huge mound. 

Then I stripped down to my underwear, stood in front of the full-length mirror, and tried on every single item. There were three places each item could go: 1) back into a drawer or closet if it fit well and I still liked it a lot and I could put it together with other items to make a complete outfit; 2) into a box marked "sell" if it didn't fit or I didn't honestly think I would wear it enough to allot it the space and it was something I thought I could sell at a yard sale; or 3) another box marked "donate" if I didn't want it and didn't think it was worth the trouble of trying to sell it.

This process took pretty much all day with a few breaks. It really surprised me to realize how tiring it can be to try on so many clothes. Of course, it wasn't just the trying on - I also had to commit to a decision and either re-hang them or fold them neatly before putting them away or into their assigned box.


One thing that really helped me let go of some of them was that I had already decided where they would go. I have a Mexican lady who helps me clean the house. She has been with me for over seven years and we have become very good friends. You might say that I have adopted her family. They take care of me, I take care of them.

Any time I need anything done, I can either hire someone in her family or she can tell me who will do a good job for a fair price. And I know that someone in her family can probably use just about anything I give them. Or she can give it to her aunt who lives in a rather primitive adobe house across the lake. If not, I'm happy to let her sell whatever it might be.

If you haven't got an adopted needy family, I'm sure you can come up with a charity whose work you value.

What Are You Waiting For?

So, if your closet and drawers are bulging with stuff you can't even fit into or haven't worn for years, why not clear things out? It is so nice to open those doors and drawers to neatly folded or hanging clothes with room to spare.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read what I write.